Sunday, 8 December 2013
Jonathan surrounded by hostage-takers
However, before his foray into politics, he worked for over 20 years at the nation’s apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where he rose to become a Deputy Director before he voluntarily retired on September 30, 1979. At a point, during his civil service years, he went into unionism and later became the President of the CBN workers union.
BY ‘TUNDE THOMAS
A fellow of Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria,CIBN, Basorun also served as Commissioner for Education in Lagos State. He was also a member of Lagos State Delegation to the National Political Reform Conference organized by Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration is 2005.
In this interview, he speaks at length about the state of the nation, his civil service years, leadership and a host of others. Excerpt:
As a retired civil servant having worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for over 20 years before you ventured into politics, how would you describe your civil service years?
It was a wonderful experience. I served the Central Bank of Nigeria in various capacities before I rose to become a Deputy Director in charge of Domestic Operations Department.
I joined the apex bank as one of the foundation staff on January 5, 1959 as a clerk. I served the bank in various capacities. I was posted to several states including Kano, Plateau, Borno and Enugu states. I was in Enugu during the civil war.
At a point, I became the president of CBN workers union, this was between 1970 and 1972. I even led workers on strike on two different occasions. I’m now a pensioner of the bank. I had a wonderful experience working with the bank. My experience there was full of challenges. I joined the bank as a clerical officer but later rose through the ranks to become a deputy director.
After disengaging from the bank, you went into politics, what informed your decision to go into politics?
I have always been involved in issues relating to promotion of people’s welfare. I believe in serving others especially where issues involved have to do with people’s welfare. This passion to fight for others led to my involvement with the labour union at CBN. I thank God that when that decision was taken to go into politics, it was not a wrong one. It always gives me joy whenever I remember what our government under the able leadership of Alhaji Lateef Jakande was able to achieve in Lagos State. The landmarks are still there several decades after we left office.
How was Jakande’s administration able to record such spectacular achievements especially in education and housing sectors?
When you have a leader that is focused he will be able to provide dynamic leadership. With able lieutenants that shared the same vision with him, Jakande was able to transform Lagos during his period as the state’s Chief Executive officer. The administration was not reckless with public funds. Every form of frivolity under the guise of allowances was discouraged. We were able to block leakages in the system and the accruing funds; the administration was able to embark on construction of schools and housing estates. We were able to run free and qualitative education programme. Unlike nowadays, when most public officials are self serving, and are only interested in personal aggrandizement, we were interested in serving the people. There was no chance for acquisition of ill-gotten wealth. You dared not even try it; to tamper with public funds during Jakande’s era was tantamount to playing with fire. The governor was highly disciplined. Jakande would not keep a file beyond 24 hours. So there was no delay in government business. It was the Jakande administration that first reached the N1 billion mark in terms of budget in Nigeria.
To show you the extent to which Jakande and members of his administration were transparent, he was not indicted by various tribunals set up by the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime that toppled Shagari’s government on December, 31st 1983.
Transparency was the watchword of Jakande’s government and he had zero-tolerance for corruption. There is a lot of difference between politics of that era and now. The issue of corruption has become a serious matter today. Transparency is being thrown to the dogs, and this is one of the major problems that is affecting our progress as a nation
At 53, a lot of people have expressed the view that this is not the Nigeria of the dream of the nation’s founding fathers, do you agree with this submission?
I quite agree. Those who say so are not far from the truth. At independence in 1960, the dream of the founding fathers including Late Pa Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, and Sir Ahmadu Bello was that of seeing Nigeria gradually transforming into a great nation, a global economic power. But here we are today, can we say we have achieved the lofty ideals of the founding fathers? No. The emerging leaders after the founding fathers have failed us. It is not yet Uhuru. With our oil and gas wealth, what have we been able to achieve? While a minority few are living in opulence, majority of Nigerians are wallowing in abject poverty. We need a government that is people-oriented. A welfarist government like the type that late Chief Obafemi Awolowo ran when he was the premier of the defunct Western region. Awolowo is a household name today because of the way he was able to transform the region. He was able to achieve a lot for the Western region.
On the issue of corruption, how best can we tackle it?
One of the best approaches to tackle it is that leaders must be ready to lead by example. The moment your aides realize that you won’t condone corruption they wouldn’t dip their hands into public treasury. Again as a transparent leader, you must be ready to sanction any of your aides that get enmeshed in corruption. But a situation where you have looters roaming the streets free, you are encouraging others to join the bandwagon. Nobody should be seen to be above the law. But in Nigeria today, impunity reigns, and this is why corruption is festering
To make matters worse, it seems as if the anti-corruption agencies, both the EFCC, and ICPC, are only being used to witch-hunt political opponents. What do I mean by this, the moment you are in the good books of those in authority, you are shielded, but the moment you are out of favour with the powers- that-be, the EFCC is unleashed on you. This is not how to fight corruption.
What is your assessment of leadership in Nigeria?
As far as I’m concerned, Jonathan is not in charge. This administration claims that it is pursuing a transformation agenda but I don’t know what is being transformed. The president is surrounded by advisers who seem to have taken him hostage. It seems these people are the ones running the show. It is like a cabal hijacking the government. Jonathan should take charge. It is him that Nigerians voted for and the expectation is that he should deliver dividends of democracy to the people.
But so far, I have not seen anything encouraging about this government. Jonathan should wake up. Poverty is all over the place. There is growing insecurity in the land. Boko Haram insurgency is daily taking its toll on innocent Nigerians. Millions of youths are unemployed. Power supply is still epileptic; oil theft is on the increase. There are many challenges that required urgent intervention. Leadership is not a tea party and this is why I believe that intending political leaders should be well groomed in leadership training.
What do you think is the way out of the quagmire for Nigeria?
Dedicated and focused leadership, Again, I think the present federalism as we are practising its is seriously flawed. Too much power is concentrated at the centre. There is a need for devolution of power. The central government is too powerful. This is not the way federalism is being practised in the United States from where we copied the model
Nothing stops us from having state police. The federal constitution allows it. Look at the way the Federal Government has been using the Nigeria police to deal with the opposition. Look at what has been happening in Rivers State where an elected state governor is being intimidated by the police.
This is not the way it is supposed to be. Under a true federal arrangement, states are not to be subordinate to the federal government, states are components units, and have constitutional backing to enjoy some powers and authority.
As a pensioner, what is your reaction to increasing reported cases of pensioners’ funds being stolen?
It is a sad development. It is not the best way to treat these people that had diligently served their fatherland in various capacities for many decades. After retiring, their hope is to collect this stipend called pension to sustain themselvess. But now you wake up daily reading reports of millions and billions of naira belonging to pensioners being stolen by some officials.
Looters of pensioners’ funds should not be allowed to go scot-free. They should not be treated with kid gloves. How do you explain to the whole world the fine of a mere N720,000 imposed recently on a senior government official who pleaded guilty to stealing over N33 billion police pension fund? People caught stealing public funds, especially pensioners’ money should not be spared. The full weight of the law should be brought upon them.
A labourer, as the saying goes, deserves his wages. Some of these anomalies bedeviling our society are as a result of the rot that has pervaded our system. We need to clean the Augean stable. Nigeria is in search of redemptive leaders.
Like I said earlier, to become a great nation capable of fulfilling her destiny we need selfless and visionary leaders. We need leaders that are ready to make sacrifices. We need leaders that view public office as an avenue to serve rather than a platform to loot. We need people-oriented government; government that is driven by the urge to serve but not to loot the treasury. We need leaders that are patriotic.